Friday, August 08, 2008

Wrap July 29- August 8

China's Olympic challenge
Aug. 8, 2008

To see what is right and not to do it is want of courage.
- Confucius

It's not just how you play the game, or even whether you win or lose. In Olympic diplomacy, it's also how you shmooze. And there will be plenty of talking on the sidelines of the 2008 Olympic Games, which open tonight in Beijing. World leaders, among them US President George W. Bush, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and French President Nicholas Sarkozy will be doing more than watching the events.

President Shimon Peres is also in Beijing, primarily to encourage world leaders to back punitive sanctions that will encourage Iran to reexamine the benefits vs the costs of building a bomb.

Peres's efforts will be directed mostly at the Chinese themselves. He will meet with business leaders, newspaper editorial boards, appear on television and "chat" with surfers on one of the country's popular Internet portals.

The Chinese have graciously arranged for our 85-year-old president to stay at a special hotel inside the Olympic compound and within walking distance of the Olympics' opening ceremony, which takes place tonight after the onset of Shabbat.

Peres will find China a complicated mix of freedom and repression. Starting in 1978, under Deng Xiaoping, the country evolved from doctrinaire communism to a freer economy. The Communist Party managed to turn itself into a vehicle for upward mobility and entrepreneurship, maintaining political control while remaining sufficiently adaptive to co-opt rather than repress, where possible. It freed the economy yet continues to control the energy, communications and finance sectors.

Hosting the Olympics is a massive achievement for the Chinese, coming as it does despite international opposition from critics of Beijing's human rights record, Tibetan unrest, a devastating earthquake in Sichuan and, just this week, Muslim violence in Xinjiang. Most Chinese are bursting with nationalist pride at hosting the Games. They should know that most Israelis, this newspaper included, opposed calls to boycott the games.

THE MOST important 30 minutes of Peres's 72-hour visit are scheduled for this morning, when he is to meet with President Hu Jintao. Iran will top the agenda.

China's relationship with Teheran, its permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and its status as a first-tier world power position Beijing as a key player in international efforts to block Iran from producing nuclear weapons. Conversely, if China joins Russia in helping Iran play for time, it will effectively remove the UN from efforts to solve the crisis via diplomacy.

China faces a dilemma. A country of 1.3 billion people, it accounts for about 40 percent of the world's recent increase in oil demand (though the US remains the world's foremost oil consumer). While China is a major oil producer, the needs of its galloping economy far outpace what it can pump domestically. That's why China is one of Iran's biggest oil customers and why it imports 58 percent of its petroleum from the Middle East - 11% from Iran.

China does not want to see a nuclear-armed Iran. At the same time, it has never been a strong believer in sanctions because a major pillar of Chinese foreign policy is "non-interference" in the internal affairs of another country.

Iran, however, is a special case and we hope that Hu Jintao will be open to Peres's entreaties. It is not in China's interest to see a regime that embraces the Islamist culture of death along with nascent Persian imperialism equip itself with nuclear weapons. The mullahs would feel themselves emboldened to spread their extremism worldwide - including to China.

Blocking potent sanctions is the equivalent of taking them off the table and painting Jerusalem into a corner, making the military option more likely. That would be setting the stage for a destabilizing scenario with the potential to disrupt oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz.

The people of China deserve to reap the bounty of their country's extraordinary achievements without the unprecedented threat to world stability posed by Iranian fanaticism, hegemony and bellicosity.

Beyond self-interest, 21st-century China has another reason to block the Iranian bomb: Chinese ascendancy on the world stage. With world leadership come responsibilities. President Hu must now summon the courage to define his country's interests within the global context.

Kadima, unvarnished

Aug. 6, 2008

With Prime Minister Ehud Olmert set to step down as party leader, the spotlight focuses on Kadima's September primary race - the assumption being that the victor will form a new coalition.

Will Olmert be replaced by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter or Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit?

Moreover, what does the process say about the health of our political system, about Kadima itself and about whether democracy would be best served by simply advancing the general elections scheduled for March 2010?

THERE IS no denying that the system has taken its lumps since the election of the 17th Knesset in March 2006. President Moshe Katsav has been driven from office in disgrace. Olmert is set to step down - not, as this newspaper urged, because of his mishandling of the Second Lebanon War, but because the multiple corruption investigations hanging over his head have left him politically impotent.

The vice premier, Haim Ramon, has been rehabilitated after a 2006 conviction for committing an indecent act. Former finance minister Avraham Hirchson is on trial for stealing, and the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Tzahi Hanegbi, is being tried for fraud. Former MK Shlomo Benizri has been convicted of bribery. Former MK Azmi Bishara fled the country under suspicion of being an enemy spy.

KADIMA was founded as a political vehicle by former prime minister Ariel Sharon - originally elected as Likud head - following the 2005 Gaza Disengagement plan. Absent Sharon, Kadima has neither evolved into a bona fide Third Way party nor inspired a genuine grass-roots following.

The polls show Livni as being highly popular with the general electorate, though Mofaz appears to have the stronger party campaign apparatus. She won't promise to remain in Kadima if defeated or, if victorious, to appoint him as her number two.

The stability of Israel's political system has always depended on which party leader can muster 61 Knesset seats - and not on how she or he got to be party leader. Moshe Sharett, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Shamir all originally came to power by becoming party leaders.

John Major became British prime minister when the Conservatives dumped Margaret Thatcher. Even in the US, Republican House minority leader Gerald Ford served as an unelected president, replacing Richard Nixon.

Of course, what Israel really needs is an overhaul of the electoral system - perhaps some creative combination of direct election by district and proportional representation, with a relatively high threshold.

Were general elections held under the present system, polls show Binyamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party emerging victorious. He would probably then have to turn to Kadima and Labor to form a broad-based coalition.

At least on the Palestinian issue, the three parties are in broad agreement - or, perhaps, equally clueless.

Since 2006, Likud has reluctantly accepted the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state as the outcome of negotiations based on reciprocity. Labor has been offering a state since 2000, having set the stage in 1993 with Oslo. And in his December 2003 Herzliya Conference speech, Kadima founder Ariel Sharon declared that Israel wanted the Palestinians to govern themselves.

The Palestinians are, nevertheless, electioneering against Mofaz on the grounds that he would be too tough a negotiating partner. Which begs the question: Why, after eight months of bargaining with Livni, have they been unable to come to an agreement? Perhaps the answer is the Palestinian side's obduracy and not the personality of the Israeli negotiator.

Observing an Israeli political party select its leader is a bit like peeking behind the scenes in a (kosher) sausage factory. The end result could produce a marketable product, but the process isn't pretty.

With polls showing that 53 percent of Israelis want new elections, it is too bad that Kadima's 72,000-strong "membership" - many of whom were just signed up by the competing camps - will likely decide who becomes Israel's next prime minister.

At the very least, however, Livni, Mofaz, Dichter and Sheetrit would do the country a service by publishing substantive position papers instead of snipping at each other.

Lebanon tipping-point?

Aug. 4, 2008

Israel is sounding the alarm: The fragile balance of forces in Lebanon is unraveling. And the world is playing deaf.

The Israeli-Lebanese relationship is reaching another critical turning-point; and not just over how Lebanon and Hizbullah are melding into a single new entity, with Beirut set to formally confer upon Hizbullah the right to "liberate or recover occupied lands" - meaning any territory it defines as "occupied," whether Mount Dov (the Shaba Farms) or Galilee. Lebanon is metamorphosing from hapless bystander to willing Hizbullah enabler, a transformation certain to have devastating consequences.

The even more immediate crisis is that unless Hizbullah's runaway arms-smuggling is checked, the Islamists may soon possess weapons that could force Israel into preemptive military action to protect this country's deterrence.

In the words of Defense Minister Ehud Barak: "We are warning leaders, foreign ministers, defense ministers around the world of the consequences of destabilizing the very delicate balance that exists in Lebanon."

THIS WEEK, the four-member Lebanon Independent Border Assessment Team, dispatched by UN Secretary of State Ban Ki-moon to assess "the monitoring of the Lebanese border with Syria" - or, in plain English, to expose rampant Hizbullah arms smuggling - wrapped up its two-week mission. It will now submit recommendations to the secretary-general. We should pray that its report is genuine, and that the powers-that-be will sit up and take notice.

Israel continues to insist that UNIFIL countries are choosing to disregard evidence of Hizbullah smuggling because they do not want to confront the muscular extremists. Still, Israeli officials have been sounding the alarm. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Barak both held meetings with Ban last week to press for action against Hizbullah's shameless violations of UN Security Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006. Livni declared that Israel "cannot accept" the flood of Hizbullah weapons smuggling. Barak was equally blunt, saying 1701 "did not work, doesn't work, and is a failure" given that Syria and Iran have moved "munitions, rockets and other weapon systems" into Lebanon.

How Damascus expects Israelis to reconcile its behavior - not to mention Bashar Assad's weekend dalliance in Teheran - with intimations that Syria wants rapprochement with Israel is anyone's guess. It also begs the question of whether Israel's indirect talks with Syria have inoculated Assad's regime against international reprobation.

At any rate, after his meeting with US Vice President Dick Cheney last week in Washington, Barak remarked that Syria's hostile behavior had led, in the last two years, to Hizbullah doubling or tripling the number of missiles in its arsenal. Hizbullah's armaments are smuggled from Iran via Syria, though some are of Syrian origin. The most lethal weaponry is Russian-made.

While Resolution 1701 demanded "the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon," Hizbullah has never been better armed. While it called on Lebanon to support the cease-fire, Beirut now explicitly threatens Israel. And while it demanded that "no sales or supply of arms and related material" reach Lebanon - Syria, Iran (and, less brazenly, Russia) are systematically flouting 1701.

WHY ARE Israeli officials raising the decibel level now given that Hizbullah has been violating 1701 practically from the get-go? And what to make of Hizbullah's menacing declaration last week that it would treat as "provocative" and "unacceptable" Israeli overflights of Lebanese airspace?

There is no denying that Israeli aircraft fly reconnaissance missions over Lebanon gathering imperative intelligence and monitoring Hizbullah's hostile intentions. Now that Lebanon stands poised to adopt Hizbullah's anti-Israel crusade as national policy, it would be ludicrous to treat Lebanese airspace as sacrosanct.

Hizbullah appears set to receive a new generation of anti-aircraft missiles that would jeopardize the IAF's intelligence-gathering capabilities. If, for instance, Syria facilitates the delivery of these Russian-manufactured, SA-8 self-propelled anti-aircraft missiles - or, more ominously, the SA-15 now operating in Iran - Israeli decision-makers may have to consider a preemptive strike.

No weapons at all should be reaching Hizbullah; but channeling dangerously destabilizing surface-to-air missiles that could blind Israel to the threats emanating from the north is simply asking for trouble. Responsible actors in the international community need to take Israel's warnings with the utmost seriousness and act to close the spigot spewing weapons into Lebanon.

Weekend in Hamastan

Aug. 3, 2008

Trying to distinguish between the good guys and the bad in the latest bout of Gaza fighting is bit like trying to decide who to hire as a babysitter - the Boston Strangler or Jack the Ripper.

Hamas may have been elected fair and square, yet its true orientation is totalitarian. No surprise, then, that it has been using the cease-fire with Israel, in effect since June 16, not only to prepare for the next round against the Jewish state, but to smother rival factions.

Thus Hamas shut down the Gaza offices of the Ma'an news agency (an outfit funded largely by Denmark) as well as the Sha'ab radio station, run by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Even Islamic Jihad has been put on notice to watch its behavior.

It's not as if Hamas faces much opposition. Perhaps its most significant challenge comes from the Dughmush clan, which enriched itself by smuggling weapons and contraband through tunnels dug under the Philadelphi Corridor into Sinai, and the equally lucrative hostage-taking business. Clan leaders help found the Popular Resistance Committees, a terror group active in the second intifada and probably involved in capturing Gilad Schalit.

It would not be surprising, therefore, to discover that Dughmush was behind the July 25 car-bombing along the Gaza beachfront which killed five Hamas operatives, injured scores of passersby and took the life of a little girl. If so, expect his clan to be the next Hamas target.

FOR ITS OWN Machiavellian reasons, Hamas blames exiled Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan for the bombing. On Saturday it went after the Hilles clan, described by the media as "loosely affiliated with Fatah movement."

Hamas cut off the clan's Gaza City stronghold. In the ensuing fighting, nine Palestinians were killed; a residential building was reportedly blown up, with people still in it; and Hamas sharpshooters aiming from minarets in nearby mosques targeted anyone trying to flee.

Hamas even used tunnels dug in the area - originally for use against Israel - to surprise the clan. At least 100 people were injured, including a dozen children. Many more were taken into Hamas custody. Under withering Hamas fire, about 180 members of the clan, led by headman Ahmed Hilles, sought to enter Israel via the Nahal Oz crossing, leaving their women and children behind.

At the request of Egypt and the Palestinian Authority - and as a humanitarian gesture - Israel allowed the Hilles men in, with the intention of sending them on to Mahmoud Abbas's Ramallah headquarters.

But in the murky world of Palestinian politics, relationships are seldom straightforward. Far from being Dahlan stooges, the Hilles had actually tried to assassinate Dahlan, together with Abbas, in November 2004, shortly after Yasser Arafat died and Abbas went to Gaza to receive visitors in Fatah's mourning tent. Abbas and Dahlan survived, but two of their bodyguards didn't.

Yesterday, after the dust had settled, Abbas did an about-face: At his request, Israel "repatriated" to Gaza many of the men who had sought his protection in Ramallah.

ISRAEL AND the West would do well to internalize, given this internecine Palestinian violence, that Hamas's rule in Gaza is the best indicator to date of how Palestinians would run their affairs in a fully independent Palestine. We need also to recognize the failure of institution-building and due process in the Abbas component of the PA thus far, as illuminated by the torture of Hamas functionaries, on Fatah's behalf, by the Aksa Martyrs Brigade.

Dismally, despite the brutal nature of its Gaza rule, Hamas remains more popular in the West Bank and Gaza than Abbas. This ongoing triumph of bellicosity and intransigence over relative moderation is greatly assisted by Abbas's abject failure to root out corruption from Fatah.

In such a climate, there aren't enough checkpoints in the West Bank Israel can dismantle to "help" Abbas. Indeed, IDF pullbacks and eased security conditions in the West Bank would simply set the stage for a Hamas takeover and leave Israel more vulnerable to terrorism.

Plainly, lifting international sanctions on Hamas would be a flagrant reward for Islamist violence and tyranny. At the same time, Hamas is a permanent fixture in Palestinian politics. Rather than closing its eyes to this reality, Israel must more thoroughly integrate awareness of it into its security and diplomatic strategy.

Interfaith, Saudi-style

Aug. 2, 2008

My brothers, we must tell the world that differences don't need to lead to disputes. The tragedies we have experienced throughout history were not the fault of religion, but because of the extremism that has been adopted by some followers of all the religions, and of all political systems.

- Saudi King Abdullah, Madrid, July 16

It would be naive to make too much - though self-defeating to make too little - of the ecumenical World Conference on Dialogue hosted by the monarch of Arabia.

For years savvy Western observers of a radicalized Muslim world have insisted that the only reliable antidote to the toxicity of Islamism is a religious reformation from within. It is premature to suppose that what happened in Spain last month was the "beginning of the beginning" of a Muslim reformation. Yet it may be that key Muslim religious and political figures have come to appreciate the perilous consequences of a rapacious Islam - not only for its non-Muslim prey, but for those who embrace the faith as well. The Islamist revolution has already begun to consume its own. Al-Qaida's first and primary target: the Saudi monarchy itself.

SO THERE can be no deprecating the ecumenical importance of King Abdullah having invited Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist figures to Madrid - not really for a dialogue, but to listen to a series of presentations. Plainly, the king was making an effort, after a fashion, to connect Islam to other religions and make Saudi Arabia less insular.

The king set the stage for his ecumenical foray in June by gathering Sunni and Shi'ite leaders in Mecca - no small feat given the depth of religious closed-mindedness within Saudi Arabia, a country where Salafism, the extreme version of reactionary Wahhabism, rules.

That Abdullah, the Custodian of Mecca and Medina, decided to dialogue with Shi'ites, Sufis and Ismailis on religious matters did not receive wholehearted endorsement from the country's clerical establishment. This is, after all, a society where religious, political and economic discrimination against non-believers is enshrined as a societal norm. Only by grasping the intolerance of the milieu in which the king operates can the relative boldness of his intra- and interreligious efforts be evaluated.

Abdullah is undeniably a maverick. In November 2007, he became the first Saudi monarch to visit the Vatican and meet with the leader of the Catholic Church.

Abdullah has also taken relatively modernizing steps to reform the Saudi legal and educational systems. Analysts suggest that the real purpose of the king's ecumenical outreach might be domestic - to influence Wahhabi clerics by creating new theological facts on the ground.

THE JEWISH invitees to the Madrid "dialogue" comprised a virtual Who's Who of European and American lay and rabbinical figures involved in ecumenical work from across the Jewish spectrum. Its organizers withdrew a shameful invitation to the Neturei Karta when the faux pas was exposed.

But what to make of the organizers' refusal to invite an Israeli theologian? Even if we accept that beyond its ostensible ecumenical purpose the gathering's underlying mission was mostly reforming Islam from within, the hypocrisy of holding a religious "dialogue" while blacklisting Israelis is disappointing. And though Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee lives in Israel, the Saudis adhered to their boycott of the Jewish state by sending his invitation to the AJC's Manhattan headquarters.

CRITICS ARGUE that the event's Jewish participants, if they had to attend at all, should have taken an openly adversarial stance and denounced Saudi political and religious fanaticism. It's doubtful, however, that haranguing Muslims is the best way to convey the idea that politico-religious differences should be amicably addressed.

Rosen - who points out that many Muslims he encountered during mealtimes in Madrid had never before met a Jew, much less a rabbi - may well be right that the Madrid gathering offers a "significant opportunity that must be seized," whatever King Abdullah's motives.

Indeed, Israelis would be delighted to "seize" the next chance to participate in a Saudi-sponsored interfaith meeting. If, however, the Jewish state were again excluded, responsible Jewish representatives would want to ask themselves if future participation was warranted.

A long good-bye

Jul. 31, 2008

On Wednesday evening Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the citizens of Israel that he would resign as soon as a new Kadima Party leader was chosen in September.

It may be a long good-bye.

Chances are Olmert will stay on for weeks, possibly months, beyond the September 17 Kadima primary. He will likely wait until his successor forms a government, perhaps in October. If Kadima can't pull a coalition together, general elections will probably be scheduled for early 2009; the winner will then need time to form a government.

Olmert doesn't intend to spend the coming months in caretaker mode. Saying Israel is "closer than ever to firm understandings that can serve as a basis for agreements" on both the Palestinian and Syrian tracks, he is hoping for a deal with Mahmoud Abbas and Bashar Assad.

THERE ARE two things Israel cannot afford. The first is a lengthy vacuum in the conduct of our security, political and diplomatic affairs. The second is a bad diplomatic deal that could be seen as binding on Olmert's successor.

Olmert must resist the temptation to give more than he should in bargaining, and more than he would in other circumstances in order to tie up a legacy-building accord.

But why not put diplomacy on hold until a new government is formed? Because the clock is ticking, whether we like it or not. The reason Israel is negotiating with Abbas - besides pressure from the international community - is that the status quo is untenable.

Israel needs to remain both Jewish and democratic, as well as economically, culturally and politically aligned with America and Europe. That means Jerusalem must strive continuously for an accommodation with the relative moderates among the Palestinians.

That said, it is the Palestinians who remain obdurate. They insist on an Israeli withdrawal to the untenable 1949 Armistice Lines, and show no flexibility on such key issues as Jerusalem and refugees. Abbas, moreover, may not be able to deliver a deal even if he wanted to; his polity is fragmented and he's done nothing to prepare the Palestinians for compromise - nothing to emphasize to his own people the legitimacy of the Jews' sovereign claims.

Hamas, for its part, is spinning Olmert's resignation as proof that negotiating with Israel is a waste of time. Yet it's nothing of the sort. Were Abbas cast more in the mold of an Anwar Sadat or a King Hussein, a breakthrough would be more likely. And seven years of Hamas bombardment of Israeli territory from Gaza hasn't helped matters.

EVEN AS Israel looks inward, awaiting the formation of the next government, its security and diplomatic concerns are ever more pressing. Hamas continues to hold sway in Gaza and to build up arms for the next round of fighting. Hizbullah ascendancy in Lebanese politics grows while it lays the groundwork for future aggression. Iran perseveres in bringing centrifuges on-line as it spins toward a nuclear weapon. The Syrian track demands skillful handling to ensure that no genuine opportunity for peace is missed - and no bad deal is hastily arrived at.

Across the Atlantic, George Bush's term as president expires in six months. Time flies, and we are mindful that there may be opportunities Israel can best take while this unusually empathetic president remains in power.

Whether it is talks with Abbas, managing the security situation along our northern border and with Gaza or pursuing efforts to free Gilad Schalit, the country's foreign and security predicament cannot be put on hold.

THAT IS why now more than ever, personal animosities notwithstanding, Ehud Olmert must demonstrably put country before self. It is imperative that fateful decisions whose consequences may extend far into the future be reached via leadership consensus.

Olmert must, as he has promised, coordinate with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, as well as with Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz in his capacity as minister in charge of strategic dialogue with the US on Iran. He should also solicit input from opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu.

Ehud Olmert did not have the benefit of a smooth transition when he took over from the stricken Ariel Sharon in January 2006. To the extent that he winds down his tenure in an atmosphere characterized by consultation and stability he will be doing both his legacy and the country a great service.

Where's our Jerusalem?

Jul. 230, 2008

The image of municipal workers, backed by armed Border Police, demolishing a practically new residential dwelling in east Jerusalem makes for bad publicity. It also exposes an underlying incoherence in Israel's approach to the capital's Arab neighborhoods.

On Monday, city wreckage crews came to the northeast Arab village of Beit Hanina to demolish a building, four floors of which had been built without a permit. The demolition was carried out after every legal "i" had been dotted and "t" crossed. Municipal officials argued convincingly that Arab builders had violated so many ordinances as to make this case one of the most flagrant and egregious in recent years.

The Post summed-up the story: "Palestinians and left-wing Israelis complain it is difficult for Arabs to obtain building permits in Jerusalem - forcing them to build illegally. The municipality insists it is evenhanded in enforcing building codes in all parts of the city." The truth, we suspect, lies somewhere in the middle. The number of housing demolitions in the Arab sector, city officials insist, is significantly down.

But Monday's justifiable demolition raises a far more significant issue: How can Israel claim to govern east Jerusalem when it has virtually no presence in most Arab neighborhoods - not even a post office or police station?

BEIT HANINA is situated inside the security fence and within the capital's municipal boundaries. Further to the east is the outlying Jewish neighborhood of Neveh Ya'acov.

There is no shortage of lovely homes in Beit Hanina. Residents pay taxes and receive health and social benefits that are the envy of West Bank Palestinians. Still, Beit Hanina is probably not somewhere you'd take a visitor to boast that Arabs are treated equal to Jews in Jerusalem. There is an ambiance of squalor. Many streets have no sidewalks; roadbeds are potholed; residents burn garbage in rubble-strewn lots. Conditions would be vastly improved if residents didn't boycott local elections, and gave themselves a say in the allocation of municipal resources. Still, Arab intransigence does not negate Israeli responsibilities.

In the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee on Monday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert essentially ruled out the chances of a "shelf agreement" with the Palestinians within the next six months. And even if some kind of "historic agreement" could be pulled out of the hat, Olmert said it would not cover Jerusalem. He then insinuated that the capital's Arab-Jewish population mix spelled trouble. "Whoever thinks it is possible to live with 270,000 Arabs in Jerusalem must take into account that there will be" more terrorist attacks.

This leaves us befuddled. The massacre at Mercaz Harav yeshiva was carried out by a resident of Jebl Mukaber, a village which abuts the Sherover, Haas and Goldman promenades in Talpiot/East Talpiot. It's also on the Israeli side of the security barrier. Is Olmert proposing to turn Jebl Mukaber over to Palestinian control? Both "bulldozer terrorists" came from the Sur Bahir area, which is mostly inside the security fence. That village (and its Umm Tuba satellite) lies next to Kibbutz Ramat Rahel and Har Homa. Does Olmert honestly think the residents of Talpiot and its environs will be better off if Sur Bahir is turned over to the Palestinians?

THIS GOVERNMENT owes it to Israelis to publicly and explicitly delineate which parts of the city the Jewish state claims. Why not tell us what Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qurei presumably already know?

And once it does, Arab neighborhoods that are to remain under permanent Israeli control should reap the full benefits of Jewish sovereignty - regardless of whether an agreement with the Palestinians is achieved.

This means swift implementation of the "Marshall Plan" Mayor Uri Lupolianski unveiled in November 2007. Rather than embroiling Arabs in red tape, the municipality would actively facilitate the construction of residential housing in east Jerusalem. With doubts about the limits of Israeli sovereignty dispelled, it would make sense to invest in infrastructure, classrooms and public gardens. Neighborhood "city halls" could be situated in places like Beit Hanina to streamline the processing of building permits, improve service delivery and provide ombudsman services.

However the diplomatic process plays out, the Arab and Jewish sections of Jerusalem must receive equal treatment - not to buy loyalty or affection, but as a concrete manifestation of Jewish sovereignty.

Why terror thrives
July 29, 2005

Someone set out to kill a lot of people on Sunday night in Istanbul, Turkey - and did. Two bombs were exploded, 10 minutes apart, along a pedestrian mall in a residential neighborhood. The first explosion attracted a crowd; the second, which could be heard a mile away, was intended to kill those drawn to the site of the first attack. Some 17 people lost their lives and over 150 were wounded. Turkish president Abdullah Gul said the attack showed "the ruthlessness of terrorism." Indeed it did.

Terrorism, meaning the systematic use of force against civilians to demoralize, intimidate or subjugate countries or peoples, has been a scourge of humanity from time immemorial. The assault against an El Al plane at Munich Airport on February 10, 1970 was not the first instance of a civilian airliner being targeted. That appalling distinction goes to a Puerto Rican communist who hijacked a US airliner to Havana in 1961. Cuba gave him asylum.

It was the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, however, that trailblazed attacks on airliners with its September 7, 1970 hijacking of three planes "to call special attention to the Palestinian problem." Sure enough, the Palestinian cause has since became synonymous with anti-civilian warfare, from the Munich Olympics' massacre in September 1972 to the Arab fratricide inside Gaza this weekend. And the slaughter of innocents is now part of the Islamists' struggle against "infidels." What the Palestinians began in the early 1970s is now paying "dividends."

This past weekend, for instance, Muslim attackers killed 49 Hindu civilians in western India, in 17 separate attacks. The modus operandi, as in Turkey, was a small explosion followed by more bombs set off to kill rescue service personnel and bystanders.

Yesterday, at least 25 Shi'ite pilgrims were killed and 52 wounded when female suicide bombers (presumably Sunni Arabs) attacked a religious procession in Baghdad.

Terrorism is now so ubiquitous as to be unremarkable. And always, obscenely, the onslaughts are carried out "in the name of Allah."

TRAGICALLY, the international community has only itself to blame for making terrorism permissible as a tool of war - depending on who is blown up, and who is doing the blowing up.

This distinction was first articulated by the world's most coddled terrorist, Yasser Arafat, on November 13, 1974, when the PLO chief made his debut appearance at the UN General Assembly: "The difference between the revolutionary and the terrorist lies in the reason for which each fights," he asserted. "Whoever stands by a just cause and fights for liberation from invaders and colonialists cannot be called terrorist... The Palestinian people had to resort to armed struggle when they lost faith in the international community...." The family of nations responded with a standing ovation.

Although Arafat would make a number of tactical flip-flops on the use of violence against innocent civilians, he ultimately rejected gains he could have made at the negotiating table - at Camp David in 2000, for instance - in favor of unleashing the second intifada.

One can only fantasize about how much safer the world would be today had the UN, instead of legitimizing Arafat's terrorism, charged him with war crimes. Would disgruntled Muslims have established al-Qaida's global network - or Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, Al Shabaab in Somalia, or the Army of Muhammad in India - had the international community sent a different signal all those years ago? But not only did Arafat get a green light from the international community, the world has since helped nourish self-defeating Palestinian tendencies toward violence, intransigence and radicalism.

Seldom have the Palestinians been told to choose between violence and political accommodation. When the Quartet gave Hamas precisely that choice, the Palestinians stood their ground. Far from penalizing them, the world went wobbly - the most recent example of this being a UK parliamentary committee, headed by Labor MP Ann Clwyd, which wants to "dialogue" with Hamas and lift sanctions against Gaza's Islamo-fascist regime.

VIOLENCE may be endemic to mankind, yet the community of nations nevertheless managed to outlaw poison gas and criminalize genocide. Is it beyond people's capacity to, belatedly, define deliberate attacks against civilians as a crime against humanity? Wouldn't the world be a better place if terrorists found no sanctuary, no financial backing and no diplomatic cover - because, simply, no "reason" justified their actions?

Obama's whirlwind visit
July 25, 2008

Barack Obama might have looked exhaustedly around this morning and said, "If it's Friday, this must be Paris."

The freshman senator from Illinois and presumptive Democratic presidential candidate is on a week-long international tour to bolster his foreign policy credentials. It has already taken him to Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Germany and France. It winds up tomorrow in Britain.

Obama is immensely popular outside the US. A recent Pew Global survey found that if French voters could decide the outcome of the elections, he would trounce the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain of Arizona, 84-33 percent. By contrast, Israelis would favor McCain over Obama 36-27 percent.

In America, where it matters, Obama leads McCain by about 5 percentage points. Roughly 65% of US Jews say they plan to vote for him.

Most US voters don't much know or care about the candidates' foreign policy stances. They care about the economy and are more interested in news about forest fires in California than Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. With a Republican administration taking baby steps toward a diplomatic dialogue with Teheran, and Obama "refining" his commitment to withdraw from Iraq within 16 months of his election, it's mostly policy wonks focusing on the international issues that divide the candidates.

It was obligatory for Obama to demonstrate that he can operate confidently on the world stage, but - barring dramatic developments between now and November - Campaign 2008 will not be decided on foreign policy.

WE ISRAELIS sometimes allow ourselves to imagine that a candidate's stance regarding Israel's security influences presidential elections. That's because who will next sit in the White House matters greatly to us. Thus, from the moment he arrived late on Tuesday night until his departure early Thursday morning, Obama's words and actions were minutely scrutinized.

He graciously granted this newspaper an interview, in which he made clear his awareness that an Iran armed with nuclear weapons would pose an existential threat to Israel, destabilize the region and undermine America's global interests.

On the question of the fate of Jerusalem, though, he was confusing. He wants Jerusalem to be Israel's capital and he wants the parties to work things out for themselves.

That led us to ask where he stood on borders. All US administrations since 1967 have pushed Israel to trade land for peace and opposed Jewish settlement in the West Bank. However, on April 14, 2004, President George W. Bush wrote to prime minister Ariel Sharon: "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the Armistice Lines of 1949..."

We asked Obama whether he too could live with the "67-plus" paradigm. His response: "Israel may seek '67-plus' and justify it in terms of the buffer that they need for security purposes. They've got to consider whether getting that buffer is worth the antagonism of the other party."

Without that "buffer," the strategic ridges of the West Bank that overlook metropolitan Tel Aviv and the country's main airport would be in Palestinian hands. Eighteen kilometers - or 11 miles - would separate "Palestine" from the Mediterranean, the narrow, vulnerable coastal strip along which much of Israel's population lives.

While Obama promises to dedicate himself, from the "first minute" of his presidency, to solving the conflict, his apparent sanguinity over an Israel shrunk into the 1949 Armistice Lines is troubling. Half the Palestinian polity is today in the clutches of the Islamist rejectionists in Gaza. If the IDF precipitously withdrew, the other half, ruled by the "moderate" Ramallah-based leadership, would quickly fall under Islamist control. And that is something no American president would desire.

Obama's position on territorial compromise, in part, may be a consequence of Israel's abiding inability to achieve a consensual position regarding those areas of Judea and Samaria it feels must be retained under any peace accord, and then to assiduously explain that position internationally.

But he sounded surprisingly definitive in his outlook on this immensely sensitive issue - more so, indeed, than did McCain when we interviewed him in March - even though he was making only his second visit to Israel. He owes it to Israelis and Palestinians - and to himself - to return here for a deeper look.

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